The Minister of Justice will answer the call from prison guards regarding increased training and protective equipment, Mbl.is reports. The Director General of Prison and Probation Administration notes a worrying trend of violence and weapons use within Icelandic prisons.
Use of weapons on the rise in prisons
As noted in an article published on Mbl.is yesterday morning, violence and weapons use among Icelandic prisoners have greatly increased over the past years. In light of this trend, prison guards have called for better protective equipment, stab-resistant vests, and, in some instances, access to tasers.
Páll Winkel, Director General of Prison and Probation Administration, told Mbl.is that the prison system was facing a “new reality,” with weapons now being confiscated from cells and common areas on a regular basis.
“This was almost unheard of, a couple of years ago. It’s my responsibility, first and foremost, to ensure the safety of my employees. We’re not enthusiastic about carrying weapons within our prisons, but we obviously need to reassess our protocols. And we may need to reconsider how we interact with certain groups of inmates, i.e. those who create and carry makeshift weapons,” Páll stated, adding that these weapons were improvised from shards of plexiglass, saw-blades, screwdrivers, screws, and nails.
Prison guard speaks out
Speaking to Vísir.is yesterday, prison guard Sigurður Rúnar Hafliðason stated that he’d experienced these trends first-hand: “We’ve got this much tougher, more violent core of prisoners, who are also abusing drugs to a greater extent. And so there’s a big difference in how we’re managing prisoners today, compared to when I was starting.”
As noted by the article, three serious assaults have been perpetrated against prison guards this year. According to Sigurður, the younger generation of prisoners commonly carries knives and post-traumatic stress has increased among prison guards.
Sigurður Rúnar doesn’t necessarily believe that tasers are necessary, arguing that stab-resistant vests and improved training is vital. “We need to improve safety … we need training so that people feel safe while they’re at work.” Mass arrests and budgetary constraints have also put pressure on an already strained system.
Minister of Justice to “answer the call”
In an article published in Morgunblaðið this morning, Minister of Justice Jón Gunnarsson stated that the safety of prison guards and police officers was “a priority.”
“What’s happening inside prison walls reflects broader trends within our society,” Jón remarked. “I’ve had extensive conversations with the prison authorities, and it’s clear that we must respond on many different levels.”
According to Jón, this response will, among other things, include stab-resistant vests. The Ministry is also considering equipping prison guards with tasers.
“We’ve repeatedly witnessed serious incidents within the country’s prisons. It’s clear that it’s necessary to equip our people in such a way that their safety is ensured at their places of employment. And we do that by providing better protective equipment. Additionally, we need to consider structural organisation; we can’t allow things to develop in such a manner within our prisons.”
Physical altercations involving knives have been in the news lately, with a knife attack at the Bankastræti Club nightclub last weekend and a fifteen-year old boy being stabbed in the Garfarvogur neighbourhood of Reykjavík earlier this week.